The Iraqi military said on Sunday that soldiers south of Mosul have recaptured the Nimrud area, home to the site of an ancient Assyrian city that was blown up by the Islamic State group. “Units of the 9th Armoured Division completely liberate the Nimrud (area) and raise the Iraqi flag over the buildings,” Iraq’s Joint Operations Command (JOC) said in a statement quoting a top military officer.
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The JOC did not specifically mention the Nimrud archaeological site, which is located a little over a kilometre west of the village that bears its name. Iraqi forces seeking to drive IS from second city Mosul also retook another village southeast of the site of Nimrud, which was founded in the 13th century and was one of the great centres of the ancient Middle East.
The city became the capital of the Assyrian empire, whose rulers built vast palaces and monuments that have drawn archaeologists from around the world for more than 150 years. In April last year, IS posted video on the internet of its fighters sledgehammering monuments before planting explosives around the site and blowing it up.
It was part of a campaign of destruction by the jihadists against heritage sites under their control that also took in ancient Nineveh on the outskirts of Mosul, Hatra in the desert to the south and Palmyra in neighbouring Syria. IS casts its destruction of artefacts and historic sites as religiously mandated elimination of idols, but that has not stopped it from selling smaller items to fund its operations.
It is unclear what still remains of Nimrud’s ancient ruins. Many of its monumental stone sculptures and reliefs were taken away for display in museums around the world but some of the more massive structures remained in place when the jihadists swept through in mid-2014.